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Synthesizers Fully Operational. Engage! - 87%

iamntbatman, December 21st, 2015

Spectral Lore began life as a mostly ambient project, and throughout the project's duration Ayloss has refined his programming skills to become a more than deft hand with utilizing subtle electronic textures to create really captivating synth soundscapes. While these are often woven into and between the black metal oriented works on Spectral Lore's albums, Ayloss does often like to indulge himself with monster instrumental synth tracks as well. This EP (which has a considerable 43+ minute runtime) affords us the opportunity to discover exactly what it would sound like for Spectral Lore to do an entirely electronic, ambient release. Recorded with the goal of being "a tribute to space exploration, science fiction and space sim games," this release should come as a big treat to those who are suckers for things like the Mass Effect OST and other bits of pretty, floating, dreamy space-themed synthesizer ambient.

The album begins with a track called "Experimental Spectroscopy (Light Years Away)" that has a busy, somewhat low pitched main synth melody that reminds me a lot of Brian Eno. As the track starts to come to a close, though, the more gentle swells of nebulous synths begin to wash over the mix, heralding a shift toward the dreamworld beauty that makes up most of the album.

That's not to say this sounds like Stars of the Lid or something like that. After all, this is billed (accurately) as electronic/ambient, so we even get some enthusiastic drum programming complete with big 80's snare samples that pushes this gently in the direction of synthwave, though this is mostly really calm, relaxing stuff that takes me back to hurtling through the stranger outworlds of Freelancer rather than evoking images of wrecking dudes in some 16-bit Terminator game or something. The more upbeat, "let's go exploring!" type tunes are balanced well by more amorphous passages where ghostly synths bring to mind mystery cloaked in fear as much as awe.

What is really great about this release is that years of playing video games in space settings has not only clearly been a huge influence on the composition of the material here, but also makes the listening experience a really vivid one. It's extremely easy to imagine a track like "Destination (Arrival & Terraforming)" being used during some sequence where you land on some strange planet and make your way up the slopes of some massive alien volcano or somesuch, while songs like "Relic Radiation (Remnants of History)" evoke images of some huge malevolent cloud of insterstellar dust that's almost certainly hiding something at the very least dangerous but just as likely sinister and brooding with hateful intelligence. Write off stuff like this as cliche all you want, but I get a real kick out how easy it is for these songs to conjure very specific imagery with such frightening ease. And, despite the unifying theme of the release, there's still a lot of individual identity to every track, meaning there's no feeling of welcomes being worn out as every new song brings new sounds and summons new visions of exploring strange and fascinating new parts of the cosmos.

Spectral Lore fans would be well-served by taking heed of that little note about the EP's influences and intentions. While the band has always had its overt space-oriented themes and sounds and has never shied away from using tons of synth-heavy ambient textures to augments its black metal, the tracks on this album go in a much different direction, cleaving much closer to video game soundtrack music than metal album interlude and outro stuff. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine most of these compositions being used alongside metal in any context, which makes me quite thankful that Ayloss opted not to try to shoehorn this kind of stuff into his full-lengths but also thankful that he devoted an entire LP-length release to this kind of super pretty synth ambient. I imagine most people who already like the band will likely find this really neat (though certainly not all of you), but this will also absolutely appeal to folks who like really good electronic ambient and space game OST music.